Significance and Context

If research implies finding something that was not there before, it ought to be obvious that it involves imagination. If it is claimed that what is found was always there (and merely lost), still an act of creative remembering occurs. As a method of materialising ideas, research is unavoidably creative… Yet, while ‘creative research’ ought to be a tautology, in the present climate it is in fact an oxymoron. A research paradigm prevails in which knowledge and creativity are conceived as mutually exclusive. In the universities this paradigm is said to be derived from scientific method. But this is incorrect: as related, even convergent, applications of ingegno, scientific and poetic creativity both suffer under it. Paul Carter (2004), p 7.

Tom Kovac

Creative practice research (CPR) is research in the medium of creative practice itself. It is a form of academic research which incorporates an element of practice in the methodology and research output.

As suggested in the passage above from Paul Carter (2004), this form of academic research arguably brings to the foreground the creative aspects of all research, while counteracting assumptions held by some about what constitutes knowledge. The implication is that when knowledge and creativity become separated, all research is weakened – and the degree to which CPR is serving to unsettle some ingrained ideas about what counts as knowledge, the forms it can take, and the ways it can be made available, makes it valuable in the broad context of research culture.  The fact that Creative Practice Research shares an acronym with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (also CPR) becomes apt if we start to think of both as procedures performed in an effort to keep something alive – in one case living organisms, and in the other research as a vital cultural phenomenon. This in no way is meant to suggest that other forms of academic research are not of equal value – but it is worth considering how the area has value beyond itself.  

The development of creative practices as a valid component of doctoral degrees goes back to around the mid-80s, gaining traction and familiarity in Australia and the UK emerging by the late 1990s and early 2000s [For related histories see: Krauth (2011); Allpress, Barnacle (2009)].  This form of academic research, being relatively new in recognition [although arguably much older in practice, see: Hill (2013)], is understood and operationalised in different ways across disciplines and local cultures, and is a subject that has provoked contestation and debate both within and outside the area.  Universities still struggle to appropriately accommodate the particularities of CPR – ethics review processes becoming a clear case in point (discussed in module 4).

For this module, we examine one model of creative practice research that has been clearly outlined, described and developed over a long period of time (since the 80s). For those approaching their research through different models, the act of differentiating one model from another can serve to produce clarity around your own approaches.

This particular creative practice research model is described in the video produced by Professor Richard Blythe (see associated content). The model has been developed over many decades in the School of Architecture and Design, where established practitioners of architecture and design undertake research into the unique practices that they have founded and developed over a period of time, usually around 10 years. In this way, the studio of the practitioner (ranging from solo practitioners to companies employing several hundred staff) becomes the ‘laboratory’ for the research. Through investigating a developed body of work and how that work has been produced, practitioners reveal tacit knowledge and articulate implicit issues at play, a process which becomes transformative of the practice itself. This transformation becomes evidenced through creative projects produced during the candidature. In this way, practitioners push at the boundaries of their disciplines in search of new forms of practice.  An account of the history and evolution of this model can be found in an essay by its instigator, Prof. Leon van Schaik, ‘The Evolution of the Invitational Program in Design Practice Research’, in van Schaik, L and Johnson, A (2012) The Pink Book: By Invitation Design Practice Research at RMIT Architecture & Design, Melbourne: RMIT, p. 15-32.  [RMIT University Library holdings: print, or via Publisher Website

Anthea Van Kopplen presenting

This model differs slightly but significantly for those candidates who don’t, for instance, have an established practice and body of work. Rather, they might be in the process of establishing a practice, such that there is a greater emphasis towards that which is emerging. Other models will tend to emphasis a project or associated group of projects rather than a practice per se. These differences reflect a series of alternative terms such as ‘PhD by project’ or ‘PhD by practice’, and ’practice led research’ or ‘practice-based research’ – definitions which slip around depending on the context.

There is no need for research candidates to labour over definitions around these terms, but it does become useful to understand alternative models, why they exist and what approaches might be available to either adopt or learn from.

The symposium discussion associated with this module will tease out some of the issues in the context of RMIT’s diverse creative practice disciplines and models across the Schools of Architecture and Design, Art, Media and Communications and Fashion and Textiles.


Carter, P. (2004). Material thinking : the theory and practice of creative research. Melbourne University Publishing.

Hill, J. M. (2013). Design Research: the first five hundred years. In M. Fraser (Ed.), Design Research in Architecture. Chichester, UK/Burlington, Vt, USA: Ashgate.

Krauth, N. (2011). Evolution of the exegesis: the radical trajectory of the creative writing doctorate in Australia. In TEXT Vol 15 No 1. (accessed 23/09/11).

van Schaik, L and Johnson, A (2012) The Pink Book: By Invitation Design Practice Research at RMIT Architecture & Design, Melbourne: RMIT, p. 15-32.  [RMIT University Library holdings: print, or via Publisher Website